As this examiner has said to moviegoers in Fresno and all of the world several times before, superheroes come in many different forms, shapes and sizes. Some of our icons are fairly straightforward, while other come off and much more bizarre. And it can be argued that there are few super comic book characters more beloved for their utter strangeness than Marvels Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool.
Originally created in 1991 by Fabien Nicieza and Rob Liefeld for The New Mutants #98, Wade Winston Wilson was intended as Marvel’s obvious answer to Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathsroke the Terminator from DC Comics. The character was initially depicted as a supervillain when he made his first appearance and later in issues of X-Force, but in the years since has evolved into the role of an antihero and has developed a much more distinctive and entertaining personality, one that is truly unique among the heroes of the Marvel universe. For those of you who don’t know, the idea of Deadpool is that he is a disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary whose superhuman ability is an accelerated healing factor and physical prowess, similar to fan-favorite Wolverine. The reason he is called the “Merc with a Mouth” is because of his overly talkative nature and tendency to break the fourth wall, which is used by writers to create humorous effect.
Despite being a product of the 90s, remembered as the darkest and most self-destructive era in the history of comics, Deadpool has nevertheless survived and thrived into the 2000s and the current decade due to his extreme popularity in the fan community. Considered an underground character for a long time, recent years have seen Deadpool suddenly appear in a vast expanse of non-comic media, ranging from animated films and television series, video games, T-shirts, Internet memes, and everything in-between; serious, go to a convention sometime and you WILL see dozens of fans proudly attending in Deadpool cosplay! This kind of exposure has resulted in the character gaining a wide range of fans, some of whom may not realize just how over-the-top violent and un-child friendly the character truly is. But now, at long last, this character is going to get his chance to show movie goers what he is really all about and make up of the sins of the past.
That’s right, Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, is actually not the first time the character has appeared in a live action film. In the summer of 2009, Reynolds had first played the role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with the idea that this appearance would be an introduction for the character before spinning off into his own solo film. Unfortunately, that first Wolverine film was widely panned by fans and critics alike and to this day ranks as the single worst entry in the X-Men film franchise, and that film’s depiction of Deadpool was one of its greatest sins. Instead of the red-and-black costumed anti-hero who never shuts out that we all know, what we were given instead was a shirtless guy with swords in his arms that was a bizarre hodgepodge of many mutant’s powers who, in who of the most idiotic decisions in comic book movie history, had his mouth permanently sealed so he cannot speak. This portrayal was utterly hated and for years fans of the character, and Reynolds himself, have lobbied to get a new film made to erase this stain and bring the character back as we all know him…Well, it was a long, seven-year wait, but at long last the Deadpool film we’ve always wanted is here!
Wade Wilson is a loud-mouthed mercenary who spends his time in New York City protecting teenage girls from would-be stalkers. He hangs out a local bar run by his friend Weasel (played by T. J. Miller) where patrons place bets on which of them will live the longest in a contest called the “Deadpool.” One night at the bar he meets an escort named Vanessa Carlysle (played by Morena Baccarin) and they become romantically involved for nearly a year. But on the night that Wade proposed to Vanessa, he then suddenly collapses. Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and although Vanessa remains by his side, he fears he will lose her.
Things change for him when one night, at Weasel’s bar, Wade is approached by a recruiter (played by Jed Rees) from a secret program, who offers him an experimental cure for his cancer, but Wade rebuffs the man and leaves. However, desperate to live, he later reconsiders the offer and leaves Vanessa in the middle of the night to undergo the procedure. In a secret facility, Wade is injected with a special serum by a man named Francis, a.k.a. Ajax (played by Ed Skrein) and is tortured for days by his assistant Angel Dust (played by Gina Carano) in order to trigger his inner mutation. After weeks of no success, Wade is strapped into an airtight chamber after insulting Francis. The drop in oxygen triggers a healing factor that takes his cancer “as far as it can go”, severely disfiguring his face and skin in the process, but effectively rendering him immortal. He escapes from the chamber by blowing it up and attempts to kill Francis, only stopping when he claims he can cure Wade’s disfigurement…before being left for dead in the crumbling lab.
Wade is able to track Vanessa down, but he cannot come to terms with his complexion, and so he keeps himself away from her. After moving into the home of an elderly blind woman named Al (played by Leslie Uggams), and receiving advice from Weasel, he reforms himself as a masked vigilante named Deadpool, and embarks on a quest to hunt down Francis and dismantle his organization. This revenge quest leads to him attacking a convoy of cars on an expressway before getting his hands on Francis, demanding a cure to his disfigurement. But this confrontation is suddenly interrupted by the X-Men Colossus (played by Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (played by Brianna Hildebrand), who want him to join the team. Their intervention enables Francis to run off, and Deadpool is forced to make his escape from them and locate Francis once again. But things become even more personal for Wade when the psychotic Francis steps up his game by targeting Vanessa herself. Can Wade rescue the woman he loves before its too late? Can he prove himself the better man and that he really is a hero? And many pop culture references will be made and how often will the Fourth Wall be broken before its all over?
Right from the opening credits, the viewer knows that this is going to be a superhero movie unlike any other they have seen before. The title sequence is a slow-motion pan across a frozen image of the title character killing thugs inside a tumbling sedan. During this shot we do not see the actor’s names but a bunch of nicknames describing them in very offhanded ways like “hot chick,” “douche in a suit” and “CGI monster thing.” These are the kind of self-referential jokes that fans of the character expect and I was so pleased to see it right upfront like this. Then we get narration from Deadpool himself, set up to the Fourth Wall breaking. From there we get to the opening sequence which it one of the most enjoyable openings I have seen to any movie in a long time. People may remember that, similar to Ant-Man, this film had test footage prepared that was leaked to the public to wide fan acclaim. And, like in Ant-Man, there is a sequence in this film that is directly based on it, and it is a wonderfully entertaining recreation. Part of the reason for that is because right before that we are introduced to Reynolds in full costume riding in the back of a cab playing with the window switch, before he crawls his way into the front seat to make friends with the cabby. It excellently sets up what kind of character we are dealing with and prepares us for whats to come.
The film is wise to open up with this key action sequence, because when we get to the flashback sequences, they’re pretty straightforward superhero fare, but with the twist of Reynold’s character. Like IGN says in their review, this is stuff we’ve seen before: Wade falls in love, gets diagnosed with cancer, and then he enters a research program that might cure him. The twist is that instead of actually getting cured, he’s instead tortured and disfigured in an attempt to make him into a secret weapon. After he makes his escape, the rest of the movie is about him putting on the red suit (so bad guys can’t see him bleed) and going on his quest to hunt down Ajax for what he’s done to him.
The single greatest strength of the entire film, and the thing we are all there to see, is Reynolds’s performance as this character. Reynolds’s has at least four comic book movies on his resume by this point and most fans seems to agree that this is the one character that he was truly born to play and, after the disaster that happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he take the bull by the horns and seizes every opportunity to make up for the past and bring the character as close to jumping of the page as possible. He give the role charisma, exuberance, and goes totally larger-than-life regardless of the limitations he faces wearing that mask and those prosthetics. The suit itself is lifted straight off the comic page and is enhanced by Reynolds’ physical performance and some subtle CGI on the mask needed for all of his broad expressions.
Also, I hope you are a fan of Reynolds’s voice because just like the character, he doesn’t shut up for the entire movie. The film utterly assaults you with jokes, one-liners, put-downs, and metafictional asides. It’s relentless! I guess I can see why some people might find that as obnoxious or annoying, but me, I was having a blast watching it, and so was the rest of my audience!
Even though I keep referring to this as a superhero movie, Deadpool‘s revenge plot serves to show how he differs from his peers in the Marvel universe. There is no montage of Wade discovering his powers and accepting the responsibilities of being a hero; instead, Deadpool goes about chasing leads and murdering everyone who have done him wrong with bloody style. In any other comic book film this would be the goal of a revenge-seeking villain like the Green Goblin in Spider-Man or Magneto in X-Men: First Class. Reynold’s portrayal carries it, but anyone who does know the character at all should not be surprised that the film takes a Punisher-esc turn.
And a lot like the Punisher, specifically Punisher: War Zone, the Deadpool movie holds nothing back is its gory, well-crafted action. All of the fight choreography is stylish throughout, where we see Deadpool effortlessly switching between his pistols and his duel katanas, pulling off moves as gory as severing heads before round-housing them across the screen, or as surreal as faking dead while he shoot someone with his gun hiding under his crotch. He breaks bones as often as he does the Fourth Wall, providing amusing commentary on what’s going down, like exactly how many bullets he has left, whether someone he’s gong to go to town on was smart enough to wear their brown pants, or whether he’s left the stove on. There is even a scene where he needs to escape a pair of handcuffs, so he willingly cuts his own hand off knowing that it will grow back later!
I mention the IGN review, and one area where I need to slightly disagree with them is on the villains. They complain that Ajax (or Francis, as Deadpool insists on calling him) fails to become a truly threatening or memorable villain because since he’s given so little to do. I will agree that he is conceived as a weak villain whose motivations are never explored, and he’s never allowed to exist on a purely evil, a**holish level that is there to be hunted by Deadpool with no real villain plot of his own. But unlike the guys at IGN, I don’t really mind so much, not like I usually would, and that is because of Reynold’s performance staling the show so utterly and making the whole story abut him. Because of that, I don’t know, but I’m just not bothered that Ajax and Angel Dust are kind of afterthought villains.
I will agree that I wish there was a bit more clarity on the super slave project that Ajax is working on. At most, we get a sense these super slaves are being auctioned off to the wealthy and wicked, but there’s no hint at a deeper story being put into motion, but that’s all speculation. In the comic book, Deadpool is experimented on by the Weapon X Program, the same group that gave Wolverine his adamanium skeleton, and in fact it was Wolverine’s specific healing factor that they put into Wade (do ask how). In the film, the name “Weapon X” is never said, and after the continuity erasing events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, I’m not currently sure whether I am just supposed to assume that is still the idea in canon or not…and I’m not sure Fox fully knows either.
In speaking of X-Men, lets go ahead and talk about them. Deadpool is the eighth film in Fox’s X-Men franchise and the first to come out post-Days of Future Past where, again, the convoluted continuity was totally rewritten. With that being said, I’m not too surprised that the film focuses on delivering a stand alone story focused on redeeming the title character for the big screen and keeps ties to the bigger universe to a minimum ( a few hilarious Fourth Wall jokes not withstanding). There are, however, two X-Men characters that do appear in supporting roles, Colossus, a classic X-Man who was previous played by Daniel Cudmore in three of the previous movies, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a mutant that even I had never heard of before she was announced for this movie. I am going to say right that here that this movie does far more with Colossus than any of the previous movies ever came close to! He’s gigantic-looking, he gets to show off in fights a lot more, he gets to talk way more than in previous films, and for the first time in any of the films the characters Russian ancestry is maintained down to his accent! So, yes, Colossus was absolutely sold to me. As for Negasonic Teenage Warhead, she is fun too, playing a sullen, youthful opposite to the more mature and noble Colossus, and both of them work well as foils to Deadpool himself. They are used sparingly because, again, this is Deadpool’s movie and, as the film shamelessly points out, they probably don’t have to budget to showcase the X-Men beyond just these two…other than some very hilarious non-Hugh Jackman cameos.
The last thing I would like to commend the film for are the performances, more that a few of which were spot on casting. Ryan Reynolds, dare I say it, has pretty much joined the ranks of Christopher Reeve as Superman, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark as one of the most definitive performances of a superhero in cinema. Every action he does, every quip he makes, this is the portrayal of Deadpool we all knew he could deliver and even though we had to wait seven years longer than expected (not to mention sit through Green Lantern), he meets every expectation and…screw it, I’m just going to say it, Reynolds is Deadpool! Morena Baccarin is a solid foil to Reynolds as Vanessa Carlysle, playing the role as a serious forward-thinker to his carefree attitude, but also as a mischievous woman from the dark and dirty side of life that puts them on even terms. True, she does serve as a typical damsel-in-distress ultimately, but at least she and Reynolds play off each other well. Ed Skrein is, sadly, criminally underdeveloped as Francis Freeman, a.k.a. Ajax, never allowed to bring a lot of of weight to the role and instead comes off as just an emotionless sadist there for our anti-hero to chase down; still, he works well like that and comes off pretty slimy. T. J. Miller is an actor I normally would not want to see in any superhero movie, but he works very well with this specific material and brings a lot of great comedic relief as Weasel. His scenes with Reynolds are some of the funniest banter in the film, playing off as a raunchy R-rated comedy that, again, works here is a way that likely would not anywhere else. Gina Carano, gets even less to do than Skrein does as Angel Dust, playing he role mainly just as extra muscle for Ajax and nothing more, but in her defense at least the script is aware of that and makes a joke about it. Brianna Hildebrand gives a humorously stoic, millennial performance as Negasonic Teenage Warhead who, despite her limited screen time, is a good foil with some interesting mutant powers and plays off well with Reynolds and Colossus. In speaking of whom, as I said before Stefan Kapičić (aided by motion capture provided by Andre Tricoteux) brings Peter Rasputin, a.k.a. Colossus to life in ways that none of the previous X-Men movies ever did. Finally the character has the full size, beliefs, humor and presence that he always lacked before and at least for this one instance he got to really shine in the actions scenes and not just be a silent supporting player…And yes, getting to finally hear him speak with his signature Russian accent was a nice treat too. Leslie Uggams appears as Blind Al, Wades’s elderly roommate who isn’t in the film very long, but her awkward relationship with him is delightfully twisted and bizarre. Jed Rees plays another bit part as the recruiter for the program, and he is also an amusing straight man in his scenes with Reynolds. Other performances include Karan Soni as Dopinder, and cameo appearances by X-Men co-creator Stan Lee and Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld.
Overall, Deadpool is not eh best superhero movie ever made (whether or not this guy is even a hero at all is very debatable), but it is certainly one of the most unique, different and bizarre superhero films out there. For fans of the character, it is everything we could have wanted, with Reynolds finally allowed to deliver the performance we always knew he could deliver, and with the action, humor, meta humor, gore and violence being up to par with what this character demands. It is not perfect though; the story itself is pretty straightforwards and the villains are clearly an afterthought, and rest assured that this film is R rated and for good reason! But lets face it, those are not the things that tare going to get you to go see the movie. We are want to see the Merc with the Mouth brought to life, and that is exactly what we get!